Lord Carey, IICSA, and safeguarding in the Diocese of Oxford – a letter to Bishop Steven

I wrote this letter in response to the statement relating to ++George Carey’s PTO (Permission To Officiate) issued by +Steven Croft, Bishop of Oxford, who is my diocesan bishop. You can read the statement in full on the diocesan website here

Dear +Steven,

I read with considerable concern your statement issued on the diocesan website on Friday, regarding Lord Carey’s PTO.

No doubt you will be aware that many, including survivors of abuse, are unhappy with the wording of the statement. However, whilst I share many of those criticisms, the wording is not my primary concern. My primary concern is with the substance of the statement – namely that in the light of this week’s IICSA proceedings Lord Carey is to retain his PTO. In particular I am worried about how this decision, and the way it has been communicated, will impact safeguarding practice within the diocese.

You say in the statement that “there has never been any suggestions that [Lord Carey] is himself a risk to children, young people and vulnerable adults.” Whilst it is true that there is no suggestion that he has perpetrated abuse, I would say that the evidence heard by IICSA this week (which I have been following closely) made it abundantly clear that through his negligence in dealing with Peter Ball, Lord Carey caused significant harm to a number of young people and vulnerable adults.

In terms of safeguarding within the diocese, I worry that by granting Lord Carey PTO, you are setting an unhelpful precedent. By this decision, you seem to be suggesting that a priest or bishop who fails to deal adequately with abuse perpetrated by someone under his or her authority need not expect any serious consequences for that failure. In a church culture where we know many clergy are already reluctant to deal robustly with safeguarding concerns, especially when they involve people in positions of power and responsibility, this seems like a dangerous and damaging message to give out.

At a time when many of us are working hard to rapidly improve the safeguarding culture within our parishes, your statement on this matter feels very undermining. Whilst we are repeatedly saying “you must report everything, you must act on every disclosure”, it would be very easy for those who are reluctant to comply to point to this statement and say “but the Archbishop of Canterbury didn’t, and the Bishop thinks that’s ok (otherwise he wouldn’t be giving him PTO) so why should I?”

It is vital, especially at this pivotal time for the church in terms of safeguarding, that we are presenting a clear and united message that not only is abuse unacceptable, but any failure in safeguarding practice which (intentionally or otherwise) colludes with the perpetrators of abuse is also unacceptable, and will be treated as such by the church.

In any other organisation (and my own experience is primarily in the education sector), anyone suspected of the sort of safeguarding failures in which Lord Carey has been implicated during this week’s inquiry would be suspended from all duties until all relevant investigations had run their course. You mention in your statement “a process of review and support”, but I cannot see why Lord Carey is allowed to retain PTO while that, and the IICSA process, are still ongoing.

I do hope that you will urgently reconsider your position regarding Lord Carey’s PTO, and consider withdrawing it, at least until the findings of the IICSA inquiry, the outcome of the internal “process of review”, and any other investigations pending, are known. That would send a strong signal to all those responsible for safeguarding within the diocese, and beyond, that negligence in the way we deal with cases of abuse is not acceptable, and will have serious consequences. It would also, I am sure, be welcomed by those abused by Peter Ball who suffered further as a result of Lord Carey’s mismanagement of the case.

Yours in Christ,

Ruth Harley
Children’s, Youth and Families’ Minister
All Saints Church, High Wycombe
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3 thoughts on “Lord Carey, IICSA, and safeguarding in the Diocese of Oxford – a letter to Bishop Steven

  1. I fear the ‘abuse cover-up scenario’ will continue to be the normal procedure until we have a bishop prosecuted for hiding the known facts of abuse cases from the appropriate authority — that is, the local civil police. And, if the bishop is subsequently convicted for failing to report the abuse, then a sentence of imprisonment imposed. This need not be for a long term — just a month in Wormwood Scrubs where he would learn about real life outside the ‘ivory tower’ of living in a bishop’s palace (or the modern-day equivalent).

    If this could happen just once, the ‘cover-up scenario’ would speedily disappear. The situation needs a ‘big stick’ to beat the bishops into dealing with these matters properly. The Church of England seems to act as though the old, mediæval concept of “Benefit of Clergy” still exists !

    Sqn Ldr Alan Birt

  2. Pingback: Law and religion round-up – 29th July | Law & Religion UK

  3. Pingback: Peter Ball – legislation, then and now (III) | Law & Religion UK

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